The Way It’s Supposed To Work
Last week, I wrote about how the Mazda Road to Indy (MRTI) has added some much needed clarity to the official ladder or feeder series to the Verizon IndyCar Series. Earlier this week, we learned of a clear example of the system and how it should work.
For those that do not closely follow the MRTI, Spencer Pigot is an American driver who just won the 2015 Indy Lights title last month at Leguna Seca. He is a bright and personable twenty-two year-old who has followed the MRTI to perfection and it has now paid off.
Like so many of today’s open-wheel drivers, Spencer Pigot started his career at a young age in karting. He raced in the 2010 Skip Barber Championship and won the title along with a Mazdaspeed scholarship. In 2011, Pigot signed with Andretti Autosport’s US F2000 team. He won three races that season along with five additional podiums on his way to a second-place finish in the championship. He switched to cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing for 2012. Pigot again finished second, but this time by only seven points to champion Matthew Brabham.
Pigot followed the natural progression of the MRTI and moved up to Pro Mazda in 2013 with Team Pelfrey. Pigot won the race at Mosport along with four podiums on his way to finishing fourth in the championship. For 2014, Pigot made the move to Juncos Racing and had a dream season. Pigot won the first four races of the season and six altogether, as he took the 2014 Pro Mazda championship.
This past season, Spencer Pigot moved up to Indy Lights with Juncos Racing. He won six races, along with four additional podium finishes to take the Indy Lights crown and the $1 Million Mazda scholarship to be applied to a Verizon IndyCar Series ride for 2016.
A million dollars doesn’t go very far these days, but Pigot has parlayed his skills and his scholarship into a part-time ride with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for 2016. He has signed for at least three races alongside Graham Rahal, beginning at what is probably the season-opener at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He is also guaranteed a ride at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but most importantly – a car for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 over Memorial Day weekend.
To his credit, Bobby Rahal is not content to take the scholarship and give Pigot only three races. Rahal has said that they will be seeking additional funding for more races, if not a full season.
A few weeks ago, I stated that it may be best for RLLR to remain a one-car team for 2016. It seemed to work this past year and I thought adding another car might upset the chemistry. But I also said that if they expanded to two cars, it might be best if they hired a promising young rookie so that there would be no question as to who the main driver on the team was.
Whether he remains part-time or even if funding is secured to run Pigot on a full-time basis, there will be no question that this is still Graham’s team. That way, there will be little, if any, disruption of chemistry; while reaping the benefits of having a teammate to share data and information with. This is a win-win for Pigot, and RLLR as well as the Verizon Indy Series and the Mazda Road to Indy.
This is a case-study in how the Mazda Road to Indy is supposed to work. Pigot was a young American who cut his teeth on karting and then the Skip Barber Championship. He entered the MRTI at the lowest rung of the ladder and succeeded at every step of the way. He spent five years total in the MRTI, before graduating into the Verizon IndyCar Series. You couldn’t draw up a better example if you tried.
This is clear proof that the Mazda Road to Indy is working. Gone are the days when there was no clear path into American open-wheel racing. With a structured ladder series all under the MRTI banner headed by Dan Andersen – I’m hoping that more young Americans will take note and follow the path that Spencer Pigot has taken rather than a feeder series that puts drivers into a pickup truck on a race track.
Please Note – There will be no post here on Monday Oct 26. Susan’s mother passed away a few days ago at the age of eighty-six. The funeral is this weekend and we will be busy with family in from out-of-town. I will return here on Wednesday Oct 28. Please keep Susan and her family in your thoughts and prayers. – GP